Going for Ride with Friends

Going for Ride with Friends

Friday, December 28, 2012

Being Like Jesus in the Barn

Facetiously I told the girls..."I really want you to be as much like Jesus as you can, so tonight you are sleeping in the barn, maybe naked, but you'll get a few rags that we'll call swaddling cloths."  This comment said in jest, turned into one of the highlights of our Christmas season.  After a delightful family visit on December 24th (spending the day on our farm with my family: Laura, Sarah, Caleb, David, Violet, Monty, and Mom) our smaller gang of 6 gathered blankets, candles, coats, the Bible and a hymnal and headed to the hayloft.  For the past 4 weeks we have been having evening family devotions centered around advent meditations.  We continued in that same vein while moving temporarily to the barn.

We arranged a clearing on the floor of the hayloft and lit four candles in glass jars.  After arranging ourselves in various ways on the hay (one of us swinging from the rafters as the high hay piles gave access to new heights) we were able to think about Jesus in new perspectives.  The hay was scratchy, and we knew from experience it probably had some spiders.  The barn was drafty yet cozy, and held the smell of animals along with the foreign sounds of the horses' movements beneath us.  The animals were confused by our presence, and I wonder how the animals responded when Mary and Joseph entered their space.  Maybe there were no animals there as the season for sheep being in the fields was upon them.  I still find it appalling that God would allow His Son, His Heir and co-Creator of all creation, to make His physical appearing to mankind in the context of a used feeding trough.  Really, how deplorable.  I would never, of my own free will, lay my child in a feeding trough or manger.  "Away in the Manger" took on a more substantial meaning as we sang with scratchy-though-sincere voices as we inhaled the dust from the hay into our lungs.

The past two days I have interacted at Children's Hospital and Ronald McDonald House with the Matheny's, our friends whose daughter has leukemia.   As I visited with Kim, the mom, she told me with tears in her eyes, that she would do anything to stop her daughter's suffering, anything.  Kim has spent the past month watching Kierra go through a bone marrow transplant, seemingly coming as close to death as possible, with the hopes that she'll make a recovery.  Kim proceeded to tell me that she sees God's love for us in a whole new way.  He sent His Son into suffering and had the power to stop any struggle, but never did because of His great love for us.  How truly foreign Love is.  Only Love Himself can define Love.  The world offers us many definitions for love, and broken meanings of Christmas to boot, but Love in the form of a suffering servant, born in a dirty stable is not love in the dictionary of our self-gratifying soul.

The Love of our God coming to earth in a stable is contradictory to the world and divinely marvelous!  How thankful we are as a family to celebrate Christmas in our hayloft with the Love of our Saviour burning brighter than the candlelight.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

(written 12/13/2012)

Merry Christmas!

“Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.”  (Luke 1:58)  Tonight as we had our family advent meditation, which was filled with a fight over where to sit, some tears, an over zealous dog wanting to play fetch, and a backdrop of Christmas lights, Dasen read these words from the book of Luke.  We as a family want to share with you how God has shown us great mercy and filled our hearts with joy, in hope that your joy measures fuller in return.

Our family over the past year or so has seen God work in marvelous redemptive ways in our lives and in those around us.  In celebration of Christ’s birth we want to share what we have seen Him do as evidences and encouragement that He is more real than the wind, and still alive with His heart beating in this world even to this day.

One of my favorite God stories is when God kept an appointment with me that I had forgotten.  In Sunday school one day we were discussing a woman at the well who had five husbands and how Jesus interacted with her.  I realized that a woman like her lived just down the street from me.  The Holy Spirit laid her family of 5 children heavy upon my heart and as I prayed for her throughout that morning I wrote on my church bulletin, “Pray for a divine appointment on Wednesday.”  I prayed for that appointment for two days, but by day three, Wednesday, I had totally forgotten the appointment.  Around 5 pm the doorbell rang and immediately I remembered my conversation with God.  I hurried to the door and excitedly greeted two of the children from the household for which I had been praying.  They were selling cookie dough and I exuberantly bought some and introduced them to my family.  Michelle (13) and Ethan (9) were probably not expecting such a response.   Ethan looked a bit bewildered and said, “Is this a church?  Because when we were walking up here I thought this might be a church.”  Joyfully I answered, “Well, no this isn’t a church, but I pray for God’s presence here everyday, so that’s kind of like a church.”  Ethan said, “I’ve always wanted to go to church but never have.”   “Well, we’re going to church in a couple hours, you can come with us.”  And so they did.  They went a couple more times with us, but shortly after meeting them, they moved again.  They were gifts sent to us to remind us of God’s heart.  We pray their seeds of faith are getting watered wherever they are, and we long to see them in heaven one day.

Tragedy hit us hard one week this past summer.  Two dire situations suddenly arose which devastated our family’s heart.  One of these circumstances involved our dear friend, Kierra Matheny (9).  She was happily playing at our farm, but the following week didn’t show up for ballet class.  Thinking she might have a cold, I called her mom to check on her, and found they were in the hospital with a diagnosis of leukemia, a rare undifferentiated type.  Kierra had taken a sudden turn for the worse with a mass growing large in her chest and dire lab reports.  She has spent most of the past 4 months in the hospital receiving chemotherapy, radiation, and now a bone marrow transplant at Cincinnati Children’s.  Our family has shared in the sufferings of this dear little girl and her faith-filled family.  God has appeared time and time again in her treatment plan.   A truly amazing God sighting occurred when Kierra’s labs showed no leukemia cells after just 2 rounds of chemo.  As she completes the recommended course of therapy we continue to yearn and pray for God to be with the Matheny’s in the furnace and for their family to come out of this “not even smelling like fire,” because the God we serve and celebrate has been known to do that.

The other tragedy that struck us the same week we heard of Kierra’s diagnosis, was that of some dear friends struggling in their marriage.  Things turned ugly quickly     and it appeared there was no hope for improvement.  We continued to pray fervently for the situation, yet even my prayers lacked faith at the time.  Much to our surprise God appeared once again.  (I know people say “Why should we be surprised at God?”  But just to let you know, I routinely am.)  Our friends were together at church less than a month later, kneeling at the altar with Dasen and I kneeling behind them giving thanks and begging for ongoing mercy.  I am amazed by God that He can heal even the most broken of situations in our lives and in those of others.  Our marriage has been broken before and we can honestly say that God is the mender of broken hearts.  We celebrate His courage to intervene in this world, once so long ago in Bethlehem, and still daily in our hearts.

Lastly, I just want to share awe at how God continues to provide care for my mother.  Taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s has some odd consequences, like dishes found in weird places, dirty laundry mixed with clean,  missing spandex soccer shorts being found on grandma... yet I am joyfully amazed at how God works to choreograph our busy family of seven into a brilliant dance of life for Him.  He knew when I surrendered my physician assistant job to care for my mother and children, that my identity would be redefined in ways I did not find fulfilling.  Even so, I want to proclaim that He is enough.   We are completely dependent on Him for establishing peace in our household, and we are clearly in need of His daily intervention.  I have loved seeing Him show up.  One of the ways I admire Him is how he brought a caregiver neighbor to assist us in caring for mom.  Mechelle is on a path of redemption and God allowed us to be a part of that.   After a Holy Spirit driven dream, Mechelle moved back to this area to care for her ex-mother-in-law, who eventually died shortly after we moved here.  Mechelle has had a painful past with abuse and neglect in her childhood, and gangs, and prison in her adulthood.  She has been redeemed by our  Savior and is a blessing to share God’s love with my mom.  Mechelle and mom regularly exercise, care for daily needs, and visit shut-ins.  

Our girls continue to thrive.  They are really such a central joy to our lives.  We see God at work in their lives as they are daily molded into disciples.  One of the most amazing things about walking together closer to the Lord and spending so much time together in home school is that we know each other's strengths as well as weaknesses.  This lends itself to a communal sense of admonition and character formation.  As we go about our daily lives of caring for chickens, learning geometry, studying passive verbs and active verb forms, riding horses, cooking tempe and bok choy or pumpkin muffins (both made today) or doing music, theatre or co-op, and greeting Daddy at the door with  eight arms and a kitchen chair so one can making a running leap into his arms... we find God delightfully alive and in our midst, creating peace out of chaos, and being the eye in the midst of storms.  

So Happy Birthday to Jesus, who still is meeting us where we are today and working with His long scarred hands of salvation to show us His creative and powerful love. May you share His joy with us in every way.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Eulogy for Jingles

Remembering Our Family Dog

January 11, 2012

“The Best Dog Ever”


Miriam Ritchey

Can you guess the best dog ever?

I bet that you can not.

Because it is MY dog.

MY dog is the best dog ever.

My dog’s name is Jingle Belle Ritchey.

This afternoon our family crowded in a vet’s exam room to say goodbye to one of our family members (albeit she was also of the canine family.) Jingles came to our home Christmas morning 10 years ago, jiggling in a wrapped box whose lid lifted off to our 2 year old, Hadiah’s, delight. Hannah was 6 months old then. I have often looked back on that first year with Jingles as holding one of the worst decisions of my life- getting a puppy who needed a wild place to run, while we were living in the suburbs, Dasen was in surgery residency, my Dad was fighting with us about his dementia, I was working, and caring for my 2 girls full-time and my Dad part-time. What was I thinking?

Yet today, I look back on that time and think... that was one of the best decisions of our lives. Even though she ate all our Christmas presents one year, destroyed my dining room chairs, chewed my cell phone, and once took off attached to our baby stroller with my baby in it...she turned out to be a delight. And I am so delighted that for 10 months before she died, that we were able to all move to a farm and see her really thrive. She had herded for years, sometimes it was the vacuum or lawn mower, and often she herded our girls. Our Australian Cattle Dog needed a job, and the job she took most seriously was taking care of her girls.

Once when our family was on a walk with 3 young children, our girls got too far ahead of us. We let Jingles off the leash and said, “Go get ‘em!” She sprinted, circled them and pushed them toward us while nosing their ankles. She had learned the first few months that although her breed is also called “Blue Heeler”, she was not to actually bite at their heels as her instincts directed her. I knew that if the girls were outside playing, and if any strangers, or men came around, Jingles would not let them near. She would alert me with barking and genuinely scare off anyone who came near without my permission.

Her first few years, many people were afraid of her... some neighbors up the street who were twice herded on their bikes, the mailman and meter reader. Yet I knew she would never bite anyone unless she were defending her family, which happened one night- at least from her perspective. One night, around 2 AM, a stranger came into our house without knocking or greeting me. This “Stranger” was actually someone I had known years before, yet Jingles or the girls had never met them. Why they entered without even knocking, especially when our dog was growling at them, I still don’t know. But they pushed right on, opening the door with Jingles guarding and growling. When they didn’t leave, Jingles nipped their hand off the doorknob. There was no depth to the bite, but it was enough to let us all know, she meant business.

Moving to a farm presented new challenges to Jingles. So much room to run and move, yet she stayed near us. She loved to bark at the horses while we were working with them- it always seemed like a wild attempt to seem useful to me. Once when our little, fat miniature, Prancer Fatso Hotrod Ritchey, got loose, Jingles barked like crazy and usefully herded him into the corral. Once Jingles was stepped on by our big Tennessee Walker as she tried to herd him out in the field. That didn’t happen twice. The other major challenge to Jingles were the chickens. She didn’t pay attention to them much for months, until one day, chaos broke out with a pony cart wreck, and Jingles felt the chaos and multiplied it. That was the day she ate Elle’s beloved pet chicken, Goldilocks. There was much crying that day. She went on to kill one more chicken after that, before we vowed to never let Jingles and the chickens in contact again.

God took care of Jingles when our family went to Africa for 6 months, and to Europe for another 3 weeks. He provided care for her through other caring people, for which we are still deeply grateful. Returning to Jingles validated that we indeed had finally come back to home base. She provided stability to our family, consistency, unfading love, affection, protection, and even bonding. She was the first dog we ever had together as “our family.” Dasen and I never had a pet jointly owned and chosen like Jingles, and the girls have never known any other dog as their own.

Over Thanksgiving and New Year’s Jingles practiced hospitality like the rest of us. Often when friends would visit our farm, they would bring their dog, and we all, including Jingles liked it that way. She seemed fine over New Year’s, but over the following days, she stopped eating and got weaker and weaker. After a visit to the vet this week, we found she had a large mass in her abdomen, probably in her spleen, and her liver wasn’t functioning well either. We were given a recommendation of a surgery. Dasen and I decided to have a family meeting to decide together what to do. With complete unison, we agreed that even though resources were available to give her surgery, that we would choose not to do it. We agreed to donate the money we would have spent on her surgery to the “poor fund” at the hospital in Cameroon, West Africa. There are family members and patients who live there on the lawn and are asked not to leave until their bill is paid. They put their lives on hold and try to work for that hospital, or find other work nearby, which is difficult to do. I was so pleased with our girls for seeing beyond themselves to remember the poor as Jesus said.

So we celebrate the gift God gave us of Jingles. She was a gift of fun and companionship. Thank you God for her life and for knowing our future and how she would fit in it so completely. We like what You’ve done in our lives, from the big things like Eternal Life and Peace, to the more nitty gritty parts, like giving us this exuberant, speckled, herding hunk of love.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hoof in My Hood

Tonight is a windy, temperate fall night. It’s the kind of night in which a loose aluminum gate blows in the wind and gently creeks. It’s the kind of night in which the sun slowly sank un-noticed while we had a family meeting filled with exuberant life and vigor. The three older girls rushed to their Christmas performance practice at church while Dasen, Elle and I tended to some matters on the farm.

It was shortly after 6 o’clock when Elle and I walked to the front pasture, carrying a halter and lead line for Hope, Hadiah’s 2 1/2 year old horse in training. Hadiah had had trouble getting her in from the field earlier in the day, and I told her I’d go out and put her in the corral to separate her from the other horses. I had a feed scoop to lure Hope toward me and provide a friendly gesture. She didn’t want the halter on, and as she threw her head around, I quickly sent Elle to the other side of the fence to be out of harm’s way. Then after applying the halter, I responded to her pulling up and away from me, with a few quick jerks on the lead line and firmly saying, “No.”

That’s when everything went terribly wrong. Hope reared much higher this time, very close to me as I had the lead line in my hands and she was less than an arm’s length’s away. Then it seemed moments held in time, while I tried to process what had just happened. My mind was sharpened to a present acuity that I have not experienced previously. I was in imminent danger as the horse’s hoof when rearing had gotten stuck in the hood of the winter coat I was wearing. It took me a while to process this and I jerked hungrily toward the hood and hoof, trying to seperate them. I yelled as loudly and clearly as I could for Dasen, realizing with the wind, and the truck engine he was working on, that he couldn’t hear me. My mind was very calm and orderly while the horse jerked and pulled. Next I yelled to Elle...”Go get Daddy”, which she did, but I knew he couldn’t get there in time, and there was no way he could rescue me. The next option, my mind focused on was “I have to remove this coat.” More jerking and pulling as my body was thrown around. I yanked at the zipper, thinking “I have to stay up, if she pulls me down I will be trampled and drug. I have to stay...." and bam, down to the ground I was thrown, with the hoof still lodged and thrashing inches from my head. All within the same instant of realizing Dasen couldn’t get there in time, and I couldn’t get the coat off, and I have to stay up, and the jerking motion of being pulled backward, I yelled....”Heavenly Father!”, knowing He was (and is) my only hope. Then in that instant, God worked a miracle. I was down on the ground with my head between her hooves while she pulled fiercely, and my jeans tearing as she pulled my body across the ground, and as soon as those words “Heavenly Father” broke between my lips, the hoof came dislodged, and amazingly she didn't stomp on me as she made contact with the ground again.

Much processing will be done with prayer and caution as we assess the safety of interacting with horses. My life was very nearly trampled with 1000 pounds of equine force in contact with my head- which is still very sore and swollen. Yet this I know...my Heavenly Father is real and He saved me. By no other Name can one be saved. He alone holds the power of horses and oceans, and He alone is mighty to save. I am still processing the shock and adrenaline and fear and bewilderment of how quickly things went awry and what could have/should have been done to prevent it. Yet my fear of nearly being killed or disabled, is succumbing to a joy because God rescued me. He personally heard me and cared. I cannot contemplate any others who feel they have not been rescued by God, all I know is that I called out loud and clear, sure of Him, and He rescued. My Heavenly Father is a Rescuer. There is nothing better than knowing Him and being in His personal care.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tiny Bioluminescent Luminaries

Last night Dasen came home from work around 10:30 pm. I had finally finished a long day of home school, errands, meal making, clean-up, bedtime rountine, and writing an old friend. He invited me for a "romantic" walk down our driveway in the dark to retrieve the trash cans. I was less than thrilled. After 15 years of trying to explain to him what romance is, he clearly still did not get it. He took my hand and led me into the darkness, refusing to even let me turn the light on by the garage. "Let's take a walk in the darkness together, without any light" he said. I looked at the cloudy sky without moon or stars and felt a boost of bitterness surge in me. Remembering the words of a respectable speaker, I bit my tongue, weakly attempting to empower my husband rather than correct him. We headed into the night with a strong aroma of skunk encircling us. I clung to his arm as we couldn't even see the ground beneath our feet. A black shadow darted somewhere across our path and I shuddered before realizing it was a cat. The comfort of the famiilar was swallowed in the mystery of the unknown. I refused to let go of Dasen's arm even when we reached the trash cans. He graciously carried both trash cans in one arm, while allowing me to fiercing cling to the other. He chuckled as he realized anew that I am not always the brave girl whom I may pretend to be.
Slowly our eyes began adjusting to the night, and my clutch on his arm became more relaxed. We took a few steps on the gravel driveway turning back toward our beautiful home, and tiny, odd greenish lights showed us the path. Where the gravel met the grass, sporadically spaced, their were mystical illuminations. At first I thought my eyes were tricking me, or maybe somehow there were miniscule battery-powered luminaries placed there as some sort of odd prank. As we walked I saw the lights hold their glow for an extended period of time, then gradually fade and reappear. As we neared the house, I reached down into the utter darkness of the ground, unsure what I would feel, and I dug my fingers under the light and placed it securely in my palm with a closed fist. It was so dark that absolutely nothing of the object could be visualized in my own hand.
Upon reached the house I released the luminary into a tupperware container and saw a black, rather ugly, multi-segmented beetle, with a posterior tiny glow. How delightful, I thought, that God would take something so unbecoming and give it a radiance that lit our path. We were looking at a glowworm, a female version of the common male firefly. I've lived a rather urban life, and the only interaction I've had with glowworms is a plastic, stuffed toy ,my daughter was once given. I'd loved it then, not knowing it was a replica of a real creation.
Tonight I encouraged my daughters to be glowworms. There may be times in our lives when we can be a city on a hill, but I think mostly we may resemble glowworms. The radiance of Christ in our lives may take some time for strangers to see, and alone we may sometimes feel insignificant or unbecoming. Yet together as the universal Church we may form a luminary path marking the way to the One radiance who never dims.
Dasen is right... walking in the dark to retrieve trash cans is romantic. I'm so thankful to have a husband to pull me into the night, and to have a God who exchanges my bitterness with a marvelous mystery reaching into my mundane moments.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

We are sitting at home on a beautiful Saturday at the end of summer in 2011. The dog is trying to test boundaries by having her paws and head across the divide of the homeschool room and dining room. Hannah is upset that Elle is yelling, re-enacting her Davy Crocket movie. Hannah is stating in a loud voice, "Don't you know I don't like loud noises." Hadiah is upset that Elle is bopping her in the face, once again re-enacting the fight scenes. Earlier Elle came rushing down from Sarah's room, running into her room and running back to Sarah's room caring a dress calling out, "I reckon I'll have to find myself a p-u-r-t-y dress." Soon after, Sarah and Elle modeled their changed dresses. Rebecca fried up some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with three of the girls rejecting the offing and making their own various things (as long as they clean-up).

This week, the Blairs came through for a visit as they came back from dropping their oldest daughter off at Milligan. Rebecca and I had spent Saturday and Sunday afternoon driving to Hindman Settlement School and back taking the classes to prepare for tutoring for Hannah. We are excited to get to work specifically on her dyslexia. While there Rebecca hunted down her great granparent's grave. They had a boarding home there. Once the Blairs came you can see, horse rides and carriage rides are fun for all. Miriam is exploring cooking now making such things as peach cobbler from scratch and collard greens and hamhock. I really like both, but I was on the minority with the collard greens. Hadiah received her upper braces to great excitement only to realize that after a day she could hardly chew due to pain. Rebecca and I think her age just jumped with the new image. Kindergarten continues with my great joy in trying to get to pick her up at noon to hear about her morning. She is in the "advanced" math with 5 boys and is reading. Of interest, was her statement one day about one of her teachers who has gray hair, "The teachers are old, but they know stuff." The Todds, our neighbors who we bought the house from, came over for steak last night. Rebecca had promised steak to them for some time and we finally got them invited. We have moved forward in that Rebecca didn't get fired-up once, and the girls know the general process of cleaning up. I must admit that we do move faster when Rebecca gets fired-up so we will have to get used to cleaning at a slower pace. May God bless. dasen

Monday, August 15, 2011

Much has happened in the Eubank Ritchey family over the last few weeks. Rebecca had her birthday and our goal of getting her some time off alone turned into a week in Chicago taking a refresher PA course for her board renewal. Before she left, we went on our first trail ride with Montana and Sky. (Montana has anxiety when feelingleft alone so he always adds some spice to the proceedings. We hope to work on lowering the spice level. The main problem is that Rebecca is the main person to work with him and she left for a week. He is back to his naughtiness.) That same weekend we went up and hiked as a family near Cumberland Falls. (Did you know that one of the only "moonbows" from a waterfall is at Cumberland Falls?) We found an inlet spring and all took a refreshing swim as the hike is much better when rewarded with a swim. Sunday Rebecca left us for the week. We survived quite well, and Rebecca assures us that she is much smarter and knowledgeable now. She took classes from 7am to 6pm with a half hour lunch. She then took a two hour practice test each night. She came home to us in time to share our time with Katy, our next door neighbor in Middletown, and Carrie, Corbett, and Callie this past week.

They all seemed to have a great time between horsing around, creeking, and eating ice cream. This Saturday, we tried out Pony Club, but sadly found that we weren't Pony Club material right now. Our pony was too small (per the trainer). Our 18 year horse had a lame back left hoof for some reason (everyone has their opinion on cause, treatment, and care). Our girls wore such passe clothes like jeans. They had their fancy trailers, thoroughbred jumping horses, light tan riding pants. Everyone was nice, but we'll try that again in the distant future (or maybe never). We'll see what 4H is like next. Regina came to pick up Katy yesterday bringing two baskets of ripe, sweet peaches from our old home's two year old tree. We had planted it where the old crabapple tree had died.

For my Mother, I even took pictures of the front of our house yesterday. Today, we picked up Hadiah's Hope. She has some funny combo name with Appaloosa, Paint, Arabian mushed together. She is smallish and obedient. We'll try not to ruin her.

The sun is setting in all the purple tints that make the evening so pretty. Elle is in bed because she now has Kindergarten to go to in the morning. The other girls are shutting down the farm with Rebecca. I guess I'll say, "Goodnight," also.

You thought that I'ld put in pictures to integrate with the dialogue. Well, I tricked you.